“Every day is just a day / Every day is a celebration”
Thoughts on Judit Nagy’s exhibition Personal Metamorphoses
In 1978, still a recent graduate, Judit Nagy won the first prize of the Textile Biennial in Szombathely for her three-piece gobelin featuring a colourful butterfly. She had become familiar and fallen in love for life with this classical tapestry-weaving technique back in secondary school. While she has repeatedly said in various interviews that “making a gobelin is drudgery,” she is passionate about tapestry-weaving, which she does several hours every day, since this special technique “can only be mastered through daily practice”1. “Passion that binds me to this »two-faced« - festive, anachronistic, simultaneously feminine and masculine - »queen of genres« sitting on her throne between the fine arts and applied arts, lulling you and lifting you up, while overworking you.”2 She expressed this connection between herself and tapestry in an iconicwork titled Weaving=a way of life. At the same time, she answered the question ofwhy somebody weaves tapestry at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21stcenturies. Her works are also examples of how this old and noble technique can remaincontemporary.
In general tapestries and textile works have clearly identifiable functions. Theykeep you warm at home or beneficially cover wall surfaces, windows or even secretdoors. It is an autonomous genre balancing on the borderline between the fine arts andapplied arts. Textile-making techniques can be traced far back to the past of culturalhistory. The heyday of the technique used by Judit Nagy was in medieval Europe, whendesigns, cartoons and weaving were done by different craftsmen. In contemporarytapestry art, however, the entire process, from planning to implementing the textile, iscarried out by the same artist.
The title of Judit’s Nagy exhibition at the Műcsarnok is Personal Metamorphoses. Itis not an oeuvre exhibition but rather an inventorying of the now. It is Personal becauseeach piece contains feelings, thoughts and hours spent with work. It is about Metamorphoses because the artist is consciously building her path, her themes are each other’scontinuation, always revealing new states of existence, just like the creatures of naturemetamorphose, turn into something new, while carrying within themselves their previous stages, like a larva into a butterfly or shrivelling autumn leaves. The current exhibition presents implemented tapestries as well as their designs and sketches, showingthe visitor how the stages of the work process are built on each other.
During the early stage of her career, Judit Nagy transplanted virtually almost all the existing tiny flying creatures into the woven fabric. János Frank refers to the artist’s Cameos cycle as a “Finger exercise in insects”3 and, evaluating her oeuvre, observes that “She never distorts and never adds anything to her models. […] Every stitch she makes is precise.” Judit Nagy’s tapestry titled The History of Flying leads on into her compositions with birds, in which the identifiable bird depictions are surrounded by Baroque-style garlands, like a frame within a frame. Examples of this include Still-life with a Peacock and Still-life with a Coca-Cola and Birds, with a Coke bottle appearing inthe centre of the latter as an iconic still-life motif of our age and American mass culture.
This motif mediated in the language of humour is contrary to the classical textile-making method cultivated by Judit Nagy. In some of her other series keys and buildingsare lent the role of protagonists, linked to particular stages in the artist’s life and tovarious phases of cultural history (Key Sentence, Release and Bond , Hymn-gates).
It is interesting to examine the composition of the artist’s ongoing creative period: the pieces of her Predestinatio cycle. The ground of these tapestries are monochrome (red, beige and blue), supporting clearly arranged rows of mythological creatures, in harmony with the given stage of life or mood of the artist, each one embodying a person from her life. These creatures include a lion, eagle, bull, dragon and a unicorn and, together with the plant pattern in-between them, create a system of ornament, a kind of grid. Yet, they are more than decoration: they tell a story through the life, events and personal relationships of the artist, which she wove into the textile. According to Owen Jones, ornament is always in perfect harmony with structure: it forms an integral part of it […] as long as it remains stylised,4 adding that when the ornament reaches a level where the painter achieves the perfect imitation of nature, there is nowhere to go from there.5 In Judit Nagy’s works the ornament is indeed in perfect harmony with structure but its role is not limited to this: her works, without exception, are veritably contemporary pieces because they address issues in the present and their stylised figures are representations of real people, who are transformed through the feelings the artists had about them in the given phase of her life, at the time of weaving the tapestry. They function as a kind of code system, as tiny signals stimulating the natural mechanism of our memory. In the form of personal transformations they narrate the stages of an active and meaningful life lived by an artist who can tolerate loneliness yet is not living alone. “Every day is just a day / Every day is a celebration” Thoughts on Judit Nagy’s exhibition Personal Metamorphoses
Mária Kondor-Szilágyi, curator of the exhibition
1 Nagy Judit katalógusa [Judit Nagy Catalogue], Press Xpress Kiadó, Budapest, 2014. Interview by Hedvig Dvorszky. p. 9.
3 János Frank’s introductory study in the Szövés=életmód [Weaving=a way of life] catalogue raisonné, 1998.
4 Owen Jones: Ornamentika. Népek, korok díszítőelemei [Hungarian translation of The Grammar of Ornament], Cser Kiadó, Budapest, 2019, 313–314.
5 IOp. cit. 322.